around the world – part 17.6 (audi museum)

Sunday September 24 2006.

This past sunday I finally got around to visiting the Audi Forum in Ingolstadt. I have passed signs along the autobahn countless times and kept trying to remind myself to visit – but obviously without success – until now.

Obviously Audi is not the only manufacturer of automobiles to have created a visitor centre, assembling in one place a museum, shop, and customer experience centre (for those who wish to take delivery of their new Audi directly at the factory.  Nonetheless, Audi has created quite a pleasant environment for auto enthusiasts. Those who know me will attest to the fact that I have on many occasions waxed poetic about the cars and roads I have been fortunate to drive with and on over here.

One doesn’t have to be a fan of Audis to appreciate the effort and style that has been put into the Audi Forum. It firstly consists of a museum, a customer centre and a massive factory complex. Unfortunately the factory tours were unavailable on weekends – another reason to return I guess. The museum is quite well executed without being wearing – large enough to present the complete history of Auto Union and its predecessors along with original or restored examples of nearly all of their products. Small enough to absorb without being overwhelmed.

Add it to your list of things to do if you find yourself in the neighbourhood of Ingolstadt.

cheers, junior

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around the world – part 17.5 (or things you miss while you are gone)

Wow: just when I got to thinking that what I was doing was of interest to all concerned, unconnected events occur which bring me back to reality.

The first was calling home to hear my dearest tell me that kid 2.0 had taken his first steps just yesterday – apparently a seven step hike, followed by a 10 or 12 step marathon.  Not surprisingly crawling still seems fastest to him.  At 9 and a half months old he is determined to join the ranks of homo-erectus….

And..

On the other hand I discover that a good friend has been on the receiving end of “homo-politicus.” My wife says, quick – ‘google’ Andrew O____ – and what do I discover but a fairly well developed set of links relating the sad story of the crushed ego of our fearless leaders.  This sordid tale of political sensitivities was exposed by Andrew’s refusal to insert “Canada’s New Government” (TM) into correspondence with same.  Makes one wonder just how self important our politicians imagine themselves to be.  Sounds like alls well that ends well – but I wait with intense curiosity to hear it from Andrew himself when he visits in October.

Keep safe and remember ‘Reply to All’ has an internal logic of its own….

around the world – part 17.4 (oktoberfest)

Sept 2006: 

octoberfestOktoberfest – the saga continues…Some of you may remember that at this time last year I had written of going to Oktoberfest in Munich.  Last year successful, this year not so much.  Not that it was entirely unsuccessful, just not what we had planned to accomplish.  Some background is in order for those of you who may not know what you should need to know about Oktoberfest.   First, it isn’t held in October despite the name.  It is held in the last two weeks of September every year.  Second, Munich, a city of about 2 million, receives about 6 to 7 million visitors in those two weeks, thus it is wall to wall humanity in the train stations, subways, downtown and at the Theresienwiesse.  Third, Oktoberfest is hugely popular with families because despite impressions, it is not simply a huge drinking binge. It is, by now, a family affair complete with rides, carnies and of course the beer tents.Beer Tents: many of the large German breweries sponsor their own tent – but they are quite unlike any tent you may imagine. They are semi permanent structures complete with wooden floors, tables, chairs, washrooms, mezzanine levels and stages etc. The Hofbrauhaus’s tent holds approx 8000 patrons with their competitors capable of holding similar numbers.  Although there are tables with seating, the average tourist will never obtain one as they are booked up to a year in advance – most attempt to claim a standing table and remain there as long as they are capable of standing.

The beer arrives largely in 1 litre mugs known as “Maas” (although I suppose for the weaker patrons one could with some embarrassment order a smaller beer) wielded by sturdy waitresses carrying on average about a dozen at a time. Patrons are expected to order and consume their beer at the same table because the waitresses ‘rent’ their tables from the establishment and thus it is a faux-pas to order your beer at one table and then take it to another – since you have not ordered it from the waitress at the table you have just arrived at.   Last year we were successful in obtaining a table at the HB tent but this year things worked out somewhat differently although satisfactorily in the end.

The story this year:  We departed by car from Greding to Ingolstadt Hauptbahnhof where we purchased two group tickets to Munich. Group tickets are the way to go, since 5 people can travel the entire transit system all day for 25 euro  including the Regional Express from Ingolstadt, the Subway, the  “>Schnellbahn, streetcars and buses. Unfortunately we departed a little later than we should have as it turned out. Important tip: if you intend to get into any of the beer tents – arrive no later than 0930hrs.  By now you will have guessed that not only did we arrive much too late, we didn’t get into the tent – not at all.

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around the world – part 17.3 (australia to czech republic)

Monday 18 September – Australia to Czech Republic:

Friday 15th of September saw in the beginning of the longest portion of my neverending trip – 23 hours of flying in about 28 hours.  A 7 hour flight from Brisbane to Singapore, a 3.5hour flight from Singapore to Hong Kong culminating in a 12 hour flight from Hong Kong to Munich.  I do NOT recommend this itinerary to you unless you are a glutton for punishment.  You lose all sense of time and space – life being reduced to three constants – seat backs in front of you – uncomfortable economy class sleep-naps – and hurrying through miles of concourses and security lineups. The ONLY thing that made these flights bearable was that I happened to fly Singapore Airlines from Brisbane to HK.

Without becoming a shill for SIA, I can state with complete honesty that they are the best airline I have ever flown. Their economy class seats and service are better than any similar class of service I have ever encountered.  Everyone received an amenity kit – the seats are wider and the pitch (distance front to back between rows of seats) is greater than that available in Air Canada economy class.  I was fortunate to have an entire row of seats to myself on both SIA flights, so I was able to rest / sleep sideways.  To cap it off, they have the most attractive flight attendants period.

I wasn’t looking forward at all to the 12 hour flight on Lufthansa from HK to Munich, but in the end it worked out well.  I asked for and received an exit row seat which offered substantial leg room, and then was able to cage about 9 hours of sleep bracketed by meals at either end.

Upon arrival in Germany I headed directly to Prague to meet up with good friends who co-incidently happended to be on a three week vacation in the Czech Republic.  Friends of Junior (FofJ) had obtained a lease on an apartment right in the heart of the old town – which made it both proximate to every popular destination and extremely difficult to find.

West of Prague the Czech countryside undulates in a pleasing tableau of picturesque hills and valleys – neither mountainous nor flat plains but something in between. My impression is that much of Czech Republic is comprised of many smaller towns with a few quite large industrial centres dominating the surrounding regions. I suspect that by now many of the smaller towns are becoming economically unviable as younger folks move to the city to pursue opportunities.
Getting to Prague was not at all difficult – the motorway is direct from the Germany – however getting to their apartment was an exercise in patience.  My first attempt had me washed up on the south shore of the city – somehow missing the last sign to ‘Centrum’ and then not being able to find a return route. I was fortunately able to find a gas station and obtain directions (in German) from the clerk. On my second attempt I arrived at what I thought was the Charles Bridge (Karlovy Most) at about the exact time that FoJ phoned me. It turned out that while I was close, I wasn’t quite close enough – something to do with not being able to dicipher street names. I cast no aspersions on the Czech language, but clearly I was not equipped to process running translations as I passed streets and tried to relate them to my map. Fortunately Bruce and Alice found me and led me to safety.

The next 24hours were spent quickly absorbing the cultural hotspots of Prague. The city could be fairly characterised as a great city suffering from a bit of neglect. It has countless beautiful vistas, stunning cathedrals and public buildings and the old city was spared the ravages of the Second World War so entire quarters of the city remain intact. Unfortunately the City government seems unable to keep ahead of grafitti and general cleanliness – probably a result of the fact that the number of tourists which it must absorb are far in excess of its ability to host them. One of my enduring memories of my visit will be the simply immense horde(s) of tourists encountered at every turn.  My impression is that the Czech Republic and Prague in particular will integrate more quickly and easily with the European Union than some other applicants.

I returned Sunday to Greding, ready to begin my MIP meeting – where I am now.

around the world – part 17.2 (australia)

12 September 2006.

The Australian Army hosted the MIP functionality test at Enoggera Military Camp in the western suburbs of Brisbane.  Enoggera is home to 7 Brigade with its line units and a Divisional HQ and Signals Regiment.  It is the Signals Regiment which has supplied the facilities and much of the Australian Army members to this test event/exercise – although several Aussies are members of other Army organizations as well.

The Camp is clearly a Second world war establishment, populated with a mix of wood frame buildings of that era and several much newer buildings.  It is interesting to note that while the remaining older buildings do look a little tired and somewhat run down – they are in much better shape than comparable building stock at Canadian Bases.  I attribute this to the fact that the worst that winter has to throw at these buildings is a ‘frigid’ 6 Celsius. We have generally condemned our old ‘H’ huts and no longer use them while they are very much in use here.

Brisbane is inland from the Pacific Ocean on both sides of a serpentine river which flows east towards the ocean, culminating in a large bay protected by substantial sand islands which form the northern extreme of the ‘Gold Coast’ and ‘Surfers Paradise”. There is a range of hills to the west known as the Great dividing Range which are, by the time they extend northward from New South Wales into Queensland, not so much mountains as large hills. I am reminded of southern Vancouver Island.

The city is also populated by small hills and knolls around which wind the arterial roads connecting the suburbs to the riverside downtown. I am again reminded of Victoria, in that the roads follow the old cattle driving paths which wind around the hills. Thus roads which begin as parallel quite often strike off at angles, cross over each other (Cook Street anyone?) etc and seem to change name about every kilometre or so.


The downtown, while modern and busy, is still quite human in scale as Brissies have retained public access to the river front and much public space has been developed all along the river.
Our hotel was located on the western edge of downtown sitting literally right on top of the Brisbane Transit exchange.  Thus the main rail station is directly behind the hotel and mall complex – a hub where commuter rail, city busses, intercity transport all converge.

Every morning about half of the Canadian contingent has been taking breakfast at a small restaurant (‘ChezNous’) directly across the road from the hotel.  It is quite popular with police (the main police HQ is right next door) and families. Our uniforms attracted quite a bit of attention, particularly from the kids who seem fascinated by us.  Our Sergeant Major, in good anticipatory fashion, arrived well armed with all sorts of extra Canadian goodies and so every day we left the restaurant having distributed flags, pins, pens and stickers to anyone who wants one.

Yesterday a little boy from Adelaide (south coast) who reminded me very much of the elder fierce creater, chattered quite happily about his favourite rugby league team, oblivious to the fact that we could barely understand his Victoria state acccent nor that we knew anything about rugby.  This didn’t stop him from asking us who our favourite ‘footy’ player was though.

Also yesterday I received what might have been the best haircut ever.  I know – nobody cares about haircuts but bear with me. I needed a trim and found a local barber – the fellow was older than dirt and had probably been giving haircuts 60 years ago when the town was full of allied troops. Anyway, you wouldn’t think that this fellow with his frail hands and possibly suspect eyesight might not finish off his haircust with a straight razor, but this is exactly what he did. For those of you who have never had your neck cleaned or hair finished with a straight razor, I can highly recommend it. When well executed, it produces the best cut you will ever receive. It is now hard to find people who can do this as for health and safety reasons, straight razors are beginning to disappear in Canada.

around the world – part 17.1 (kingston to hawaii)

Sept 2006: 

Hello all from Waikiki Hawaii.  Indeed, the my employer saw fit to fly me to Australia via Hawaii – so I found myself for 24hrs just off the beach in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.  Of course many millions of other people discovered Hawaii long before I did which has resulted in an overbuilt city.  Honolulu itself is actually quite disappointingly average – but of course as it is set in the considerable natural beauty the city obtains a much better impression. I do feel though, that if one were to pick up this city and plunk it down anywhere else in North America, it would be quite forgettable.

Instead of surfing, my colleague and I spent a very enjoyable mid afternoon at the Arizona Memorial (http://www.nps.gov/usar) at Pearl Harbour. For those of you who don’t know the memorial, it cantilevers over the remains of the USS Arizona, a battleship sunk at Pearl Harbour on 7 Dec 1941. The ship sits in about 30 feet of water, which means that at various tides upper levels of the superstructure are exposed. It is both a memorial and an active cemetery as it contains to this date the remains of the approximately 1200 sailors and marines who perished in the attack, and the remains of about 35 more survivors who are permitted to be interred next to their shipmates. It is quite an experience and very similar to that which I felt when traversing the grounds at Vimy Ridge.

On the night of the 7th we clambered back aboard our airplane for a 10hr flight to Sydney and then on to Brisbane. I did not look forward to that much time in the air – however I recognize that I have been very lucky to have even the opportunity to travel to Australia -so not too much complaining.